August 1961: Construction begins on the Berlin Wall, 96 miles of concrete, barbed wire, and armed watchtowers. Dubbed the “Anti-Fascist Protective Rampart” by East German authorities, the Wall blocks traffic, commerce, friendships, and love, and scars the center of a city still recovering from war.
Just blocks away from this monument to totalitarianism, architect Hans Scharoun soon begins constructing its physical and symbolic opposite: a concert hall using space to symbolize social equality. In Scharoun’s radically inclusive design, the orchestra sits at the center of the hall, with seating arranged in terraces for optimal views and sound. There is no bad vantage point from which to see or hear. The space is vast, open, and free.
The Philharmonic construction site is almost within firing range of the Wall’s armed guards. From the roof, the construction team can see the tanks, the barbed wire.
The Philharmonic is “about re-forging German identity and community after the war,” says Getty Research Institute curator Emily Pugh, “in a way clearly distinct from how they were defined in the previous years, under Nazi rule.”
Scharoun created his design from the inside out, inspired by the observation that people naturally gather into a circle around improved music. “This same process,” he asserted, “must also be allowed to unfold in a concert hall. Music must stand in the center, spatially and visually.”
“The space is incredible,” says Chris Edwards, the Getty’s imaging and digital media architect and a longtime architecture photographer. “It’s built specifically for the observer. Every single thing about it is beautiful, even in the way it’s lit, evenly and beautifully throughout the whole space. Its terraced approach, with the orchestra in the center—called a vineyard layout—allows you to have an unencumbered view of the orchestra pit.”
In 2016, at the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles, Emily and architecture curator Maristella Casciato, in collaboration with colleagues, conceived of an exhibition that would connect the sister cities of Berlin and Los Angeles through their great spaces for music: Hans Scharoun’s Philharmonic and Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall. Gehry’s design was directly inspired by Scharoun’s vineyard layout and the unique feeling evoked by the interior space.
To study the similarities in the two halls’ spaces and plans, the curators needed architectural models. “A model helps you see, analyze, and understand architecture, especially the architecture of large and complex buildings that the human eye can’t perceive in a single field of view,” says Emily. “The Philharmonic is a particularly complex space, so it’s hard to wrap your brain around it, conceptualize it, just with your eyes, or through plans or drawings.”
Frank Gehry had a model from the early stages of Disney Hall, showing its plan as well as the interior space. But Scharoun’s models, all handmade, have been lost or destroyed over time. Showing the two buildings’ designs side by side in an exhibition didn’t seem possible. The curators grew dejected.
Chris, though, had an idea. “I approached Emily and Maristella and told them there was a way we could do this—and it was sort of an audacious idea at the beginning—but we could simply make a 3D capture of the interior and 3D-print it. As we began to discuss it, we realized that this was something we could really do.”
The Fraunhofer Institute for Computer Graphics, based in Darmstadt, Germany, is one of the leading institutions in the world for 3D imaging. Chris had met Pedro Santos, head of Frauenhofer’s Department of Cultural Heritage Digitization, years earlier, and each recognized that together they and their respective organizations could do something pretty amazing.
Santos, a lifelong computer programmer, and his team had developed the world’s first solution for fast, economic, and automated 3D digitization of cultural heritage. Fraunhofer had scanned complex buildings before—the Pergamon Altar, for example—but the Philharmonic would be the largest and most complex 3D scanning project they had ever attempted.
Matevz Domajnko, a research fellow at Fraunhofer, led the scanning work in Berlin. “The scanner emits a laser beam to a mirror,” he explains, “which rotates in vertical and horizontal directions and captures 3D points in a 360° environment.” By using the laser scanner in 98 different positions, Matevz and his colleagues were able to capture the details of the complex space.
Once the scan was created, Fraunhofer engineers transformed the digital model into a printable digital artifact that would become a centerpiece of Emily and Maristella’s exhibition Berlin/Los Angeles: Space for Music. In addition, the digital model will be available for free download following the exhibition so that anyone, anywhere, can 3D-print their own Philharmonic.
3D imaging and printing of this complexity has the potential to revolutionize the study and interpretation of art and architecture, says Emily. “The intellectual challenge of this project is to use the technology as a tool for art history,” she explains. “Making these images—not just looking at them, but making them—helps you understand the building and the architect’s process.”
Through the creation of the model, Emily and Maristella have developed new research questions about the Philhamonic. “The fact that we were able to achieve such gorgeous 3D and 2D images of this complex space suggests that the space was designed to be photographed, to be transformed into image,” Emily explains. In the fall, she will return to the Scharoun archive in Berlin to research this intriguing question—was the architect thinking about imaging technology as he created the building?
For exhibition visitors, the 3D model has been instrumental in conveying the spatial conception of the Philharmonic and how it compares to Disney Hall. This model, and others that will follow, will help democratize the experience of architecture, Chris adds, “allowing students and researchers and laypeople to understand a building that they may never be able to set foot in.”
Forty-five years after Scharoun’s death, the freely available digital Philharmonic is a fitting tribute to his vision of generous space.